By Richa Gupta:
Volunteering is a lovely art. In the words of Dorothy Height, a social activist, “Without community service, we would not have a strong quality of life. It’s important to the person who serves as well as the recipient. It’s the way in which we ourselves grow and develop.” I rediscovered the beauty of community service several months ago when I started volunteering at a home for girls suffering from mental illness.
Being a Bangalore resident who doesn’t understand the local language presents me with a large language barrier in numerous facets of life—from giving directions to auto drivers to confirming the prices of products. Consequently, in 9th grade, I realized that volunteering would be much harder for me than it would be for my peers
Ever since then, I’d try to help out in my community in different ways – such as by organising a book drive to raise money and interning with non-profit organisations. But these interesting and fruitful ventures rarely gave me the opportunity to directly communicate with the people I’m trying to help.
But that changed once I started volunteering at a home for girls with mental illness, along with 10 to 11 of my classmates. At first, I was worried about the language barrier that would exist between me and those young girls. But that worry evaporated moments after stepping in—when I realized that laughter and happiness share a common language, which other differences can’t interfere with. Before arriving for the first time, a lot of people had told me that I would truly appreciate all that I had when conversing with those young girls. That message was redundant, since I already appreciate all that I am blessed with. But what no one had told me was the extent to which I’d admire them, and aspire to possess some of their innate qualities.
For most of today’s generation, it is difficult to elicit a genuine smile. But on the second day I went to the home, my friends and I were greeted with real, heartwarming smiles from the youngsters there—and even by howls of excitement. I was amazed and felt warmth spread throughout my body. It had never occurred to me that my mere presence could evoke such joy from others and that was only my second visit! And in retrospect, I hadn’t done much the first day, except introduce myself, play around a bit, and draw and color pictures with the other girls. But the girls still remembered me and were genuinely happy to see us. And that’s a quality I admire the most: having a low threshold to happiness. In a world where the media and social networking are blamed for the low levels of satisfaction among teenagers, there was nothing more wonderful than realizing that it can be so easy to be happy and see the world in a positive light. And that’s a quality I admire more than anything: the ability to embrace every change that comes your way and garner happiness and excitement from it.
I learnt a lot from my volunteering experience, but this was probably the most prominent. Yes, fully-functioning electricity and hot water are luxuries, and we have an incredible amount to be grateful for. I made a lot of friends, and formed many personal connections that I hope will sustain themselves in the time to come. But the best was the realization that smiles are universal, and that the world can be miles more beautiful once we start appreciating the most miniature aspects and surprises that come our way.
I volunteered at this home in the first half of 2016.